Artificial Behaviour

House Rules

  1. Communicate Well
  2. Be Kind
  3. Trust
  4. Enjoy the Learning

I wrote these house rules what feels like decades ago, back in April 2020. They served me well during the rapid shift to online training. But, 17 months later, they work just as well face to face. There’s beauty in their simplicity and a power in their application: learners ask, “how are we defining ‘Communicate Well’?” “How do we establish ‘Trust’?” and thus, through a shared understanding, own their rules.

Back then, hauled kicking and screaming into grids on screens, it was easy to forget the basics. That’s understandable. A lot was happening. Our focus was on survival. But I’m curious why I thought to have ‘Zoom rules’ at all. My guess? I was trained well. It was automatic, second nature, to put something – anything – in place to frame the learning.

Augment or Replace?

Years of edtech growth happened in months. Yet even at pace, the competing forces of innovation and caution crafted something of value: Edtech does not replace teachers, it enhances them. Edtech does not ‘take our jobs’ it enriches them. Edtech does not disempower us; it puts wonderful new tools into our hands.

And here’s one that’ll get you thinking, especially if you’re in the business of nurturing new teachers. Meet Savannah, Dev, Ava, Jasmine, and Ethan, US middle school kids who are ready to help you learn the craft of teaching –

Provided by edtech company Murision, they are part of a “mixed-reality teaching simulation environment supporting teacher practice in classroom management, pedagogy and content”. Basically an AI-driven, virtual space where you can try things out, “learn new skills and craft your practice without placing “real” people at risk during the learning process.”

The Basics Remain

Virtual or real, the basics of managing behaviour in class remain the same:

“Here are the rules. Here’s why we have the rules. Here’s what happens if you do or don’t follow them. And here’s how we’re ALL going to make this work”:

  1. By communicating well
  2. By being kind
  3. By trusting
  4. By enjoying the learning

Training

No avatars in sight here, but I consulted on this Challenging Behaviour course and also contributed the video elements (minus beard). Do take a look and try out the interactive demo – if you’re starting your teaching journey or just want a refresher.

Recommended Books

I learned my craft from Bill Rogers’ material and Paul Dix’s approach is very effective. Get these two key texts at Amazon:

Scripts for Being Radical

Radical Candor

Do you care about the people you work with? Do you challenge them if they need to change? Do you care for them and challenge them at the same time?

You’ve likely heard of Kim Scott’s ‘Radical Candor’ (book at Amazon) advocating the principles of ‘Caring Personally AND Challenging Directly’. Omission of one or both, argues Scott, makes for team dysfunction and reduced productivity.

Prioritising care can lead to ‘ruinous empathy‘: necessary (and difficult) professional feedback is withheld through fear of upset or ‘rocking the boat’. Overemphasising challenge is aggressive and causes fear, disengagement and conflict. If a leader lacks both you’ll know; manipulation and insincerity prevail.

But to care AND challenge is to have ‘Radical Candor‘ – you give essential, performance-related feedback for the sake of the other person’s growth and success. You care about them doing well. ‘I’m telling you what needs to change in your practice so that you can achieve more, can be more, can do more‘.

Of course, it can be hard to balance the two: picking your moment to give the tough message; reading the context, the other person, the risk; preserving their esteem, their control, their security. But here’s why taking the risk makes sense:

Receiving Radical Candor

Imagine that, even though you believe you’re doing the best job possible, you actually aren’t. You don’t know this; you haven’t realised; you think things are just fine as they are. After all, non-one’s told you anything different. But you are making things harder for yourself and running at 80% efficiency.

So, what if your manager knew of a couple of things you could do differently that would make your job easier and eventually get you promoted. You’d get more done; you’d enjoy the work more, you’d thrive. Would you want them to keep this to themselves?; keep quiet in case you get upset; or would you want them to come out with it? And if they did, how would you like to hear their message?

Giving Radical Candor

Here are a few phrases to get you started – whether your radical candor aims to help a team member, a child, a colleague, friend or even a family member:

I’ve noticed a few things that might help you get this done more effectively, may I share them?

There’s a difference between what we were expecting to see and what we’re actually seeing. Let’s talk about what might account for the difference.

I’m going to share a couple of ideas here that I need you take on board right now. Tell me what the positive impact might be for you…

And if you want to make this a whole lot easier in your organsiation, normalise it. Have the big discussion up front before anyone needs to use radical candor. Reach a shared understanding of what radical candor is, why it’s important and how you’ll all use it for the organisation’s benefit.

Then you’ll work in a culture where everyone cares personally and isn’t afraid to challenge directly.

Here’s Kim summarising the core concept.

Learning Will Be Disrupted

Alice (name changed to protect identity) officially attends Greenfields Primary, an outstanding school (name changed to protect its outstandingness) serving a diverse suburban catchment. 12 months into our global pandemic, Greenfields was still struggling to adapt. Remote learning comprised worksheets emailed home; blended pedagogy was tolerated – for now – ‘until we can go back to how it was before’; CPD was on hold ‘while we cope with the disruption’.

Alice’s dad, Mark (you guessed it) is not happy. His company switched online 72 hours into the first lockdown and since then they’ve wrestled with new technology, struggled with diverse work patterns and been frustrated by shifts in customer behaviour. But they stuck with it. They innovated, adapted and exploited the disruption – because they had to, because they needed to, because they wanted to. And now, they’ve emerged more productive, more agile and more creative than before.

Alice’s dad is not happy because if he and his team can grow through adversity, why hasn’t his daughter’s school?

So he talked to his sister Beth, a teacher, about her school, Bluesky Primary.

Bluesky Primary is RI and hard at work fixing that. A week into lockdown they’d realised a different approach was needed. So, they wrestled with new technology, struggled with diverse work patterns and got extremely frustrated by shifts in parent and pupil behaviour.

But Bluesky stuck with it. They innovated, adapted and exploited the disruption – because they had to, because they needed to, because they wanted to. And now, they’ve emerged more productive, more agile and more creative than before.

They LOVE face to face teaching. They LOVE remote learning. And, heaven help us if another lockdown comes, they’re ready. They’ll just flick a switch and seamlessly go online. They’ve developed a blended learning handbook (not policy, big difference); they’ve empowered pupils to be online power coaches; and they’ve recognised how this disruption has shoved them all into their children’s futures – and where else should you be, as an educator?

So, Alice, disrupting the system, subverting the normal, pushing the boundaries, began to attend her aunt’s school, Bluesky, remotely. Why not? says her father. Please do, says Beth. Alice engaged with high quality interactive teaching, made new friends, embraced her future. She didn’t bother completing the worksheets from her official school.

What if your school was open to all children? What if the quality of your interactive live teaching and your learning management systems defined you, rather than the number of worksheets emailed home?

What if the learning economy was so disrupted that your catchment area was global?

The elements above are true, just synthesised from different contexts to make a point. Since March 2020 I’ve watched pandemic disruption amplify and accelerate diversity. Sometimes this is good (teaching becomes better and more effective); sometimes it’s not (children who were behind find themselves further adrift). But the most startling amplification for me has been how teachers and schools that were already forward facing (Bluesky) have really seized disruption, tamed it and used it; and how those that were not (Greenfields) have stagnated, and done nothing new, innovative or interesting for their children.

Chew these over in the staff room:
– What kind of school are you in today?
– Are you preparing your children for their futures or for someone else’s past?
– How do you view ‘disruption’?

7 Billion Stories and How to Hear Them

You don’t know what it’s like to lead a school through a global pandemic unless you’ve led a school through a global pandemic.

– a statement to which many of the leaders with whom I work will relate. And it speaks a wider truth: everyone on Earth has a unique pandemic story to tell. Tales of tragedy and transformation; of reflection, resilience or resignation; of anger, of loneliness; of division and unity; selfishness, cruelty and, thankfully, of kindness.

How to Tell a Story

Look to stories that have already been told to find the kind of narrative you need. Booker’s Seven Basic Plots (2004) is one of many frameworks that makes this easier. Booker analyses thousands of tales and argues for a meta-narrative that describes ‘story’ per se, together with 7 plots that keep on cropping up. Your story will be a combination of these seven motifs:

  • Overcoming the monster – defeating an evil force.
  • Rags to riches – gaining power, wealth, success; loosing it; getting it back.
  • Quest – setting out to acquire an important object; facing challenges and temptations.
  • Voyage and return – visiting a strange land; overcoming threats; returning changed.
  • Tragedy – a personal undoing because of a flaw or a mistake.
  • Comedy – concluding happily after twists, turns and misunderstandings.
  • Rebirth – changing ways (for the better) because of a significant event.

And these themes tell our shared, global story of the last 18 months as well: the quest for vaccines to overcome the devastation of COVID-19; the plot twists and muddles as politics, media, social media and science intertwine; and our rebirths as we return to a world changed forever.

How to Hear a Story

I joked recently with a group of specialist teachers I’m training in coaching skills that there are 5 different kinds of listening:

  • Active Listening – paying full attention to meaning.
  • Dialogic Listening – learning through conversation.
  • Discerning listening – gathering specific information.
  • Pub Listening – waiting for the other person to finish speaking so you can say the thing you wanted to say before they started.
  • Family Listening – two or more simultaneous monologues.

They all have their place but the first three offer real value to the speaker. If you’ve ever been able to just talk freely, confidentially, without judgement and without expectation; if you’ve been heard, really heard, by another person then you’ll know the power of that kind of exchange.

Telling your story and having it authentically heard can be affirming, healing and empowering.

Whose story will you hear? And to whom will you tell yours?

5 Stages of Remote Teaching

The good news is you’re probably already at stage 4. Here are the five:

  1. Stability
  2. Survival
  3. Innovation
  4. Opportunity
  5. Enrichment

And here’s what they look like:

1. Stability

Remember stability, clarity, security? Early 2020? Feels like decades ago don’t you think? The curriculum was known and effective. Things were generally clear. We knew what to do, how to do it and (if we had the time to think about it), why we bothered. Concerns were: Ofsted, Year 9 (or Year 6), and keeping the staff room cup-washing rota viable.

2. Survival

March 2020. We fell off a cliff. Chaos. Completely unknown territory. We had no idea at all what to do. The curriculum became erratic or non-existent. We couldn’t get to it because of two barriers:

Technical: How do we/they get online and what do we press when we get there?

Pedagogical: How do we do what we did so well in class when all we have is a tiny rectangle in which to do it?

3. Innovation

OK. So it wasn’t good, but after the shock we took a peek at the new landscape and began to play around with our new tools: Zoom, Teams, Google Classroom, Jamboard, Mentimeter, Desmos. We crossed into the curriculum by using the barriers within our lesson design – a bit of technical skill, a bit of remote pedagogy, a bit of the literacy. The new gold standard was not wall-to-wall live teaching but creative learning design.

4. Opportunity

And here we are now, February 2021, about to return to school. We’ve worked hard, we’re exhausted, but we’ve learned so much about learning – because we’ve had to. The barriers are significantly thinner. Well done you.

But how will we preserve our learning back in school? How will we use this opportunity we’ve had to grow personally and professionally?

5. Enrichment

So here’s my hope for the future. A richer curriculum. See the grey rings? That’s a legacy of the barriers. A reminder that struggle teaches, failure strengthens and frustration breeds success. The curriculum can be enriched because of this lengthy, uninvited and exhausting training course on which we’ve all been delegates: COVID-19

How well do these stages match your own experience? Did you miss any? Squeeze others in between? Linger too long? I hope we don’t ever go back to stage 1, but at least if we do, this time there’s a roadmap.

Why You Should Not Teach Live Lessons

Before COVID, we educators and trainers had this:

And then, early in 2020, we didn’t. All we had was this:

A rectangle. Our laptop screen, monitor, phone or tablet. The space in which we had to teach, to learn, to train, communicate, have fun.

And then, once we’d picked ourselves up and dusted ourselves off, we made it work. Here’s what we did with our rectangles:

We opened up the world. We connected, we innovated, we created. We struggled, became frustrated and we persevered through fear, anger, and through a time of simply not knowing what to do – or how – and we got there.

But from the start, a dubious benchmark emerged. Teachers feared it, politicians didn’t understand it and parents used it as a yardstick (stick): The quality of online learning was sometimes judged – erroneously – by the quantity of live lessons.

Some folks embraced live teaching, others fought it – still do – but in my opinion the debate is mis-aligned. If we aspire to teach live online, replacing a day in school with a day on screen, then we miss a huge opportunity.

Puentadura’s model explains why. Aspiring to teach live is substitution. The professional focus is on replicating what you do in school. You’ll miss the vast opportunities that technology offers. You’ll not think to augment, modify or even redefine learning. You’ll fill your rectangle with the same pedagogy which pervaded your classroom.

I’m not saying don’t ever teach live. I’m saying that substitution is only the start of innovation. And if you want to improve your teaching, innovate with the tools that have come your way: Teams, Zoom, Connect, Blackboard, Basecamp, Slack, Padlet, Mentimeter, Desmos, Kialo-edu, Mural, Google Classroom, Remnote, Jamboard, GSuite Apps, Trello to name just 16.

Here’s the kind of blended approach I’m coming across in UK schools:

  • Confirm house rules and expectations (behaviour, interaction, technical).
  • Clarify risk assessment and safeguarding practices.
  • Begin the day with a live check-in and tasking session.
  • Set pupils to work, emphasizing the skills they’ll use to gain the knowledge required.
  • Open up themed breakout rooms where pupils can collaborate.
  • Open up a shared online space where learning is posted and where pupils get ideas.
  • Invite pupils to present their learning using a choice of five online platforms.
  • Schedule a short, interactive lecture from an expert in another part of the world.
  • Make yourself available for asynchronous chat support.
  • Take smaller groups aside for extra help, challenge or alternative provision.
  • Meet live at the end of the morning/afternoon to share work and to check out.

Please do teach live online if that’s your style or you’ve been directed to. But please don’t miss the wonderful opportunities to not teach live all the time that have appeared in our rectangles over the last year. Then maybe, when we do go back to school, vaccinated and resilient, we’ll be even better at what we do – adding value to the future.

www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk

Courses at Eventbrite

Four Words for 2021

I didn’t choose them; I heard them at a Gallup webinar last spring: Trust, Compassion, Stability and Hope. The Gallup folks suggested businesses use each one to guide a pandemic response. Thinking Classroom had just lost 90% of its income and its biggest client (out of the blue; not related to COVID) and didn’t qualify for any government support. The advice was timely and meaningful.

Those four words saved the business; enabled it/me/us to look outwards instead of in, to look beyond close family, beyond extended family, past neighborhood, city, nation and out to our irrevocably connected world. Work shifted online, Zoom School started and food could be placed on the table.

May I humbly pass on these four words to you as guidance for the end of 2020 and support for the challenges and changes of 2021.

Trust

Choose who you trust and explore your trust in them. The politician, the scientist, the journalist; the mathematician, the social commentator, the influencer; the friend, the family member, the child. Pause and think before you judge; before you form and crystallize an opinion. And then consider yourself; your integrity, your intent, your actions. Find the trustworthiness there. If you see it, others will too.

Compassion

The pandemic has laid bare our values, beliefs and personalities. It’s accelerated and amplified what was already present. Maybe you’ve been shocked by behaviours of friends and family? By their interpretation of social rules and its difference to your own understanding? Maybe you’ve been empowered by extreme acts of love and care, seen first hand or in the media. Maybe you need to cut someone a little slack, or have it cut for you. Maybe walking a mile in someone else’s moccasins might not be such a bad idea right now.

Stability

When everything changes what remains? What is left, left for you? An object? A memory? A person? Where is your anchor? Seek out the music, the poetry, the film and TV, the books the photographs, the recollections and the words which, for you, are timeless. Build your own stability from this raw material then help others to do the same.

Hope

This will pass. Maybe not when or how you want it to, but it will pass. Hope is not about wishing for this to end or about demanding a return to normal. Hope is a quiet, almost silent confidence that’s heard once the noise fades. Hope is a state of being, a way of believing in the present just as much as in the future.

Trust, compassion, stability, hope. Please pass them on.

How to Blend Learning #1

The ‘blended’ in ‘blended learning’ means combining in-class with online teaching. It can be synchronous (live) or asynchronous. It’s touted as one way to be lockdown ready. I propose it’s the only way to be 21st century ready.

It’s not something to do ‘while we get through this’. It’s a permanent redefinition of learning. What it offers is long overdue: a necessary kick start to finally break from the educational practices that fuelled the first Industrial Revolution, to fully prepare students for the demands of the fourth. We need to get this right.

Photo by Anastasiia Chepinska on Unsplash

There are three ways to come at blended learning:

1. Plan learning for in-class then transform it to work online.
2. Plan learning for online then transform it to work in-class.
3. Integrate all learning spaces then plan the learning.

Embarking on 1 and 2 risks a frustrating ‘good enough’ short-termism. 3 lays deep foundations where learning is central, not the tools or methods of its delivery.

1. Planning an in-class lesson to work online prompts the search for web tools that will replicate face to face activities. This will only ever partially succeed. In-class will never be the same as online. We’ll never achieve the full authenticity of a classroom where we’re all breathing the same air.

2. Likewise, planning an online lesson to work in-class is equally doomed. The range and flexibility of web tools cannot be replicated in the ‘real’ world. Online collaboration, editing, access to information, creativity – these and more are in a completely different league to their in-class counterparts.

3. The third approach separates learning from the debate about online vs in-class. It challenges us to take a different, long term view:

Think big about how and where learning happens.
Take time to bring your philosophy of learning to life.

1 and 2 fuss about which mug to use. 3 considers the quality of the coffee.

Places where learning can take place are combined into a whole. School, library, bus, bedroom, street, in-class, online. Learning doesn’t stop with a school bell or start with a log on.

Online happens to be a place where we can collaborate and create. In-class happens to be a place where high quality discussion takes place. Research in the library; debriefs on the bus; texting in the street. Learning is bigger than school and bigger than online.

Effective learning is independent of the tools or spaces used to bring it to life. We all have a philosophy of learning. Mine cites eight evidence-based features that underpin learning design:

  • Relationships
  • Visual Thinking
  • High Order Thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Self-efficacy
  • Feedback
  • Active Learning
  • Peer Teaching

These are not tied to a room or a screen. We can build learning relationships online and face to face; we can think visually at a screen or in a forest; feedback can be verbal, written, emailed, texted or videoed.

Don’t get caught in the twin traps of, ‘How do I make this work online?’ or ‘How do I make this work in-class?’ Instead ask, ‘What is my philosophy of learning? Which principles work best?’ Then, looking at all the tools and resources and places and spaces available to you and your pupils ask, ‘How do I bring this philosophy to life?’

Thinking Classroom resources from September 2020 will help you to do this.

Knowledge is Dead. Long Live Knowledge.

I’m walking in the country with R. It’s a professional catch up. Executive coaching. (Coaching walks really work, try them). We’ve each got a Starbucks, black Americano, 4 shots. The sun is out, the air is clear.

We cut through bushes and emerge to find 40 beech trees spaced evenly and set in two parallel lines – just over 2 meters apart – stretching left and right. The trunks are too wide for us to reach around; they must be 150-200 years old. Looking up, the canopy is pastel green and sunlight washes through.

There is intent here, there is purpose. Someone, along time ago, decided to plant these trees – right here and in parallel lines. A car would fit between them and maybe, when the trees were younger, two carts could pass.

The trees are on a ridge. To the east is an ancient track, to the west an abandoned military camp. Neither offer any clues but our curiosity is peaked. We want to know – need to know – who planted these trees, when they did it and why.

We ask a man walking his dog. He doesn’t know. A phone search brings up nothing. As experienced educators it’s unspoken that neither of us will now rest until we have this knowledge. This is necessary knowledge.

We plan some blended, lockdown-ready learning for R.’s primary learners:

  1. Study trees. Become beech experts. Have 10 key facts to hand. Learn through expert lectures, online research, reading. Be ready.
  2. Visit ‘Beech Avenue’ (school visit or streamed live). Apply your knowledge. Come at the task visually, linguistically, existentially, mathematically, alone, in groups.
  3. Get creative. If you walk the full length of Beech Avenue, where will you be transported? If the trees talk when we leave, what will they say? What have these trees seen?
  4. Develop the absolute best question you can about Beech Avenue.
  5. Back at school, or at home, seek out local history experts. Zoom Q&A. Locals who’ve moved away are now within reach.
  6. Present learning live, online, face to face – whatever works best.
  7. Review the project. What do we now know and how does it connect to what we already knew and want to know next? How will we remember it? What skills did we need? What attitudes did we need for this?

COVID has forced us online. It’s forced us to consider how we teach.

If you taught in ‘way A’ before lockdown, you’ll probably seek out tools online to teach in ‘way A’. If you taught in ‘way B’ before lockdown, likewise, you’ll seek out tools online to teach in ‘way B’.

What if online offers way C? What are going to do?

The majority of the children whose futures you are nurturing will be alive when the years begin with ’21’. We’re going to need a pretty strong evidence base to continue to use teaching methods that dominated when the years started with ’19’ or even ’20’.

Let’s make the future work:

ZoomConTwo: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/113956159942

A One-Line Recovery Curriculum

It’s a question. A single question.

It’s not this: What was your best experience in lockdown?

It’s not this: What was your worst experience during lockdown?

Nor is it any of these: What have you lost, gained, what’s changed? What are your challenges, threats, opportunities, hopes, fears? What did you do, feel, think, say?

No, the 12-word recovery curriculum question is this:

Which of those questions do you least want to answer and why?

Try it. You’ll find that children and adults alike begin to talk about what’s most important to them. It’s a respectful route to a meaningful conversation.

By all means buy the catch-up and recovery resources; design them yourself; attend the training; write the curriculum; ask the experts; address the emotional and intellectual catch up.

But at the end of the day, however you do this, it’ll depend on your relationships; on your ability to let your children tell their stories; on your willingness to empathise with them, and on your capacity to authentically hear them as they speak.

Start with the 12-word question and take it from there.